"Extinct" Giant Otter Spotted In Argentina For The First Time In 30 Years

Drink it in, kids. It’s a good news day for endangered species. Image courtesy of Gerardo Cerón and Rewilding Argentina

News of extinctions seems to weigh heavy on our timelines in an era where the climate crisis is transforming parts of the world into inhospitable habitats. It’s important, then, to grab onto good news with both hands. To that end, we’re delighted to report that one such glimmer of hope was spotted weaving through the waters of El Impenetrable Chaqueño, a national park in Northeastern Argentina. Here, for the first time in at least 100 years, a giant river otter was sighted in the Bermejo river making it the only known wild individual not to have been reintroduced to the region. The species were believed to have been extinct in Argentina for the past three decades.

Reports of the individual’s discovery come from the province of Chaco and the Rewilding Argentina Foundation who said, in a release sent to IFLScience, that it joins three giant river otters that have traveled to Argentina from farther climes. Coco and Alondra were brought to the region from Denmark and Hungary, respectively, and currently remain in a pre-release pen in the Iberá Park (in the neighboring province of Corrientes). Another otter named Nanay recently arrived in the country from Sweden but remains in quarantine until it is cleared to enter Iberá Park. The newest arrival, found swimming freely in the province’s own Bermejo river, is the fourth specimen and the only one that currently lives in complete freedom.

These animals really do put the “giant” in giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), measuring up to 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in length and weighing as much as 33 kilograms (73 pounds). They are found in large rivers and wetlands across northern and central South America. It was thought to have gone extinct in Argentina, though evidence to the contrary recently graced the country’s waterways. The family groups seen in the 1980s were in the province of Misiones, but no otters have been seen in the Bermejo river for over a century. As a species worldwide, giant river otters are currently classed as threatened with extinction.

On World Otter Day (May 27) today, the team behind the ongoing and long-standing Giant River Otter Reintroduction Project announced that they have further good news for the species. “Alondra and Coco, the couple from Iberá Park in Corrientes, gave us the best news: they produced three beautiful cubs! These are, for sure, the first giant river otters to be born in Argentina after many decades of extinction,” said Sebastian Di Martino, Conservation Director at Rewilding Argentina Foundation.

“The cubs were born on May 19 at 1 am. The first week of life is critical for them, and they are doing well. Alondra and Coco are excellent parents, but it's too soon to confirm that the cubs will thrive because of their inexperience. Even so, this is fantastic news, and we expect to see them swimming in the pre-release pen soon.”

Drink it in, kids. It’s a good news day for endangered species.


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